Humane Treatment and Slaughter of Decapods
We are often asked - what is the most humane way to kill a crab or a lobster? Whilst we think that the slaughter of any animal, if it is to take place, should only be carried out by a trained and licenced professional, the reality is that until the law is changed, many of these are slaughtered by the consumer at home and by chefs who are inadequately informed. There are no official government guidelines as they are not yet legally recognised as sentient. So, until they are, here is our guide.
Inhumane Slaughter Methods
All of the following methods have been described as inhumane by the EU's Animal Health and Welfare Scientific (AHAW) Panel (4):
Live boiling. During this process lobsters and crabs thrash, try to escape, and shed their limbs, known to be a sign of stress. The process takes the animal up to 3 minutes to die (5).
Chilling in the freezer/ice slurry before live boiling. There is no evidence to suggest that this induces anaesthesia rather than just paralysis (6). It may in fact lead to a slower death.
Live carving / dismemberment. Whilst some uses of the knife may be more humane than others, it is vital that the correct nerve chains are severed quickly. In particular, lobsters must be severed lengthways all the way down the body. All too often this is not the case, with chefs claiming splitting the head of a chilled lobster kills it instantly. This method is highly likely to cause pain - even if the creatures have been previously chilled to a torpor (4).
Humane Slaughter Methods
Electrical stunning, followed by immediate killing, is an established method of slaughtering crustaceans which research shows is likely to be the most efficient and humane method currently available (Fregin and Bickmeyer, 2016; Roth and Grimsbo, 2013; Weineck et al, 2018). The evidence suggests it renders edible crabs unconscious within 1 second (Roth and Grimsbø, 2016) and causes the animals no additional measurable stress above that caused by handling (Neil and Thompson, 2012). The animals can then be killed immediately to ensure no recovery before death. In 2020, the Humane Slaughter Association commissioned further research into the efficacy of electrical stunning, and the appropriate parameters for different species.
For example, the Crustastun is a device used and recommended by renowned chefs such as Giorgio Locatelli at Locanda Locatelli, and Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir. A version is also available for large-scale processors. Advocates report that since the process of electrical stunning aids tenderisation the meat has a better and sweeter flavour:
“We believe that this new Crustastun system is an important advance from an ethical point of view, and have discovered that it also enhances texture and flavour”. Raymond Blanc OBE
The Stansas, a Norwegian commercial dry stunner for fish, has also been adapted for the humane stunning of edible crabs in line with Norwegian animal welfare regulations.
Meanwhile, Ace Aquatech has won an award for an in-line fish stunner that can also be adapted for humane slaughter of decapod crustaceans.
Mechanical Methods and Killing
Mechanical methods may take longer to render a decapod crustacean unconscious, particularly if it is inexpertly or hurriedly carried out. There is also significant concern that chilling in the freezer is ineffective and causes stress in edible crabs (Roth and Øines (2010), taking them 30-40 minutes to lose behavioural signs of consciousness. Crustacean Compassion do not recommend mechanical methods are used due to the potential to cause serious suffering. Nor do we consider chilling before live boiling an effective stun. The animals may simply be paralysed and unable to respond, and yet still feel the boiling water.
Crustacean Compassion believes that the slaughter of decapods should only be carried out by a trained and licenced professional and in accordance with statutory guidelines. We are therefore against the sale of live animals to the consumer for home killing.
There are many examples of good practice. Waitrose stun their UK Brown Crabs and Lobsters, as shown by this correspondence:
And Tesco's Aquaculture Manager states that:
"All of our Tesco Own Brand UK Brown Crab and Lobster is humanely stunned, prior to slaughter".
Some restaurants such as Giorgio Locatelli's Locanda Locatelli and the Crab House Cafe in Dorset have committed to using the Crustastun. But with no legal guidelines, there is no obligation for the food industry to treat crabs, lobsters and crayfish humanely, either in storage or during slaughter.
The government and the food industry think that the British public don't care about crustaceans. Will you prove them wrong?
4. Animal Welfare Act (1999), http://www.legislation.govt.nz/act/public/1999/0142/latest/DLM49664.html, pdf, accessed 29-4-16
5. Norwegian Animal Welfare Act (2011) https://www.animallaw.info/statute/noway-cruelty-norwegian-animal-welfare-act-2010#s2, pdf, accessed 29-4-16
6. Animal Welfare Ordinance (2008) www.blv.admin.ch/themen/tierschutz/index.html?lang=en, pdf, accessed 29-4-16
7. The EFSA Journal (2005) 292, 1-46 – Opinion on the “Aspects of the biology and welfare of animals used for experimental and other scientific purposes”. Accessed at http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/efsajournal/doc/292.pdf on 27 December 2013.
8. Roth, B. and Øines, S., 2010. Stunning and killing of edible crabs (Cancer pagurus), Animal Welfare, Volume 19, Number 3, August 2010 , pp. 287-294(8). Universities Federation for Animal Welfare.
9. Fishcount (2014) "Welfare during killing of crabs, lobsters and crayfish" http://fishcount.org.uk/welfare-of-crustaceans/welfare-during-killing-of-crabs-lobsters-and-crayfish, webpage, accessed 8-3-16
10. Neil, D. and Thompson, J., 2012. "The stress induced by the Crustastun™ process in two commercially important decapod crustaceans: the edible brown Cancer pagurus and the European lobster Homarus gammarus".Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine at the School of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences, University of Glasgow. Accessed at http://eprints.gla.ac.uk/81433/1/81433.pdf on 16 November 2013.
11. Neil, D., 2012. The effect of the Crustastun™ on nerve activity in crabs and lobsters. Scientific report. Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine at the School of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences, University of Glasgow. Accessed at http://eprints.gla.ac.uk/81428/1/81428.pdf on 16 November 2013.
12. Neil, D., 2012. The effect of the Crustastun™ on nerve activity in two commercially important decapod crustaceans: the edible brown Cancer pagurus and the European lobster Homarus gammarus. Scientific report. Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine at the School of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences, University of Glasgow. Accessed at http://eprints.gla.ac.uk/81430/1/81430.pdf on 16 November 2013.
13. Electrical stunning of edible crabs, report no: 18/2013, Nofima, ISBN 978-82-8296-0279-3 (pdf). http://www.nofima.no/filearchive/Rapport%2018-2013.pdf.